It's a Whatchamacallit
- Grades: 6–8
- Unit Plan:
- Brainstorm ideas for a new product using simple machines.
- Communicate a finished project through an oral, written and graphic presentation.
- Invention Project Brainstorming (PDF)
- Computers, books, examples of wacky inventions, kid inventions, inventors (optional)
- Websites to visit:
Set Up and Prepare
- Make a class set of the Invention Project Brainstorming (PDF) handout.
- Collect books from the media center on inventions and inventors.
- Reserve computer time if necessary.
Praise students for the creative jobs they did on their Simple Machine Obstacle Courses, and inform them that their superior work has earned the class the right to work on a special project. Today you are going to venture into unknown territory and become inventors of never-before-conceived-of inventions. Some might call them ‘wacky inventions'!
Initiate a lively discussion by asking the class what the wackiest invention is that they know about. The Clapper? Chia Pets? Rain boots for dogs? These are fairly reasonable compared to the thousands of crazy new inventions that flood the U.S. Patent office each year. (Explain that the U.S. Patent office protects the ownership of inventions for their inventors.)
What about the "Dad Saddle"? A real invention to hop on pop! The Dad Saddle slips around Daddy-o's waist and evenly distributes the weight load on his hips for maximum comfort.
Or maybe you're a little lazy, and would like to own a "Motorized Ice Cream Cone." Just flip the switch, and this handy gadget spins the ice cream around your tongue to avoid a cramp in your hand.
Perhaps you would like to have a "Cricket Gun" for Christmas. Maybe your dog needs a watch? Or you could just be in the mood for a new pair of "Deer Ears." These are all real inventions that have been submitted for patents.
Explain that most inventions do something positive to benefit humankind. Invite the students to offer suggestions of inventions that helped people. (Answers will vary.)
Discuss the fact that some inventions that seem crazy at the time turn out to be of a huge benefit to people. For instance; disposable diapers, Post-it Notes, Velcro, and Teflon were all considered crazy initially.
Motivate students to think about inventions by telling them that they will use computers to search out wacky inventions, smart inventions, and famous inventors.
Allow students to gather information by visiting the Web sites listed here, or searching the Web under the topics "wacky inventions," "best inventions," and "inventors". It is not necessary that students locate specific information, but that they gain the insight that there is a lot of inventing going on, by a wide variety of inventors. Direct students to make notes about the facts they locate to share with the class. If it is not possible to use computers, most media centers have a wealth of books on inventors and inventions.
DAY 2 and 3:
Review information that was located about inventions and inventors. Engage students in a conversation concerning the information they read about wacky inventions or inventors. The main point to understand is that most inventors aren't Leonardo da Vinci. Most of the best inventions were invented by accident, or by little-known inventors. Great inventions usually come about because of a common need to solve a problem.
Ask students this question "Did you ever wish there was an invention that could... do what?" What do you think needs to be invented? It's your turn to become the inventor, and design the wackiest invention you can create to solve a common problem of modern man.
Invite students to suggest problems that should be solved, or products that should be invented. Emphasize that the only rules governing the invention are that a common problem is solved, and at least one simple machine is used in the invention.
Distribute the Invention Project Brainstorming handout and review the guidelines. Students are to use the worksheet to list products they wish someone would invent to solve a common problem, then think of ways the problem could be solved, and finally, suggest the use of at least one simple machine to put into the invention.
Monitor student's progress on the worksheets to observe any students struggling with the concepts.
Direct students to meet with their previous partners when they have completed their worksheets, Teams are to analyze each other's brainstorming lists and determine the best products to invent.
Students may draw their chosen invention, or better yet, build a mock-up. Explain to students that a mock-up is a pretend product that companies photograph, use for meetings, etc, until the real thing has been manufactured. Depending on how difficult the product is, students may wish to draw a detailed sketch listing the parts of the product and their functions, as opposed to creating a mock-up.
(This work could start on Day 3 depending on how fast the students worked.)
Engage students in presentations of the inventions. Presentations should include the Invention Brainstorming worksheet, and a mock-up of the product (or a good detailed drawing). Students should be prepared to defend the necessity of the product, and inclusion of the simple machine in an effective invention that solves the common problem.
Supporting All Learners
ESL and struggling students are welcome to do research only and locate as many facts as they can regarding inventions. Research, and computer time, is very beneficial to most.
Each year, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) hosts an invention competition. Last year's Battle of the Crazy Machines is available to see online: http://www.pbs.org/safarchive/4_class/45_pguides/pguide_301/4531_mit.html#act1
Invite parents in for the presentations.
- Research inventions and inventors.
- Complete a Brainstorming Activity Sheet.
- Brainstorm ideas for common problems that could be solved by an invention utilizing a simple machine
- Create a mock-up of the product, or a detailed drawing.
- Present the project to the class in an oral presentation.
- How will you improve this lesson overall next time?
- Next time you will definitely not include... ?
- You could complete this lesson in more/less time if...?
- How could you transform this lesson into an interdisciplinary unit?
- You would prefer to assess the students in this way...?
- You are confident that your students were educated and enriched by this unit.
Students should be assessed based on the completion of the Invention Project Brainstorming worksheet, completion of an invention that follows the guidelines, and quality of the presentation.